Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vacation Reading

Struck me today: this will be the first year since I started tracking that I won't hit 50 books read. I'll trade that for having read "Infinite Jest," sure, but still: end of an era.

#39 -- "Bloodlands" by Timothy Snyder

#40 -- "Czechoslovakia Since World War II" by Tad Szulc

Snyder was a friend of Tony Judt, so of course I was all over this. I'm happy to say that "Bloodlands" lives up to that connection -- it's absolutely shattering and up there with "Postwar" and "Nixonland" in the pantheon of great history books I've read in the last few years. Snyder's subject is the unhappy fate of the lands trapped between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union (roughly Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltics) and parts of it were enough to (seriously) give me nightmares. That shouldn't put you off, though. It's excellent.

Szulc's book is an old used bookstore find. There is a surprising lack of good works on the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion -- this is one of the best, and it's pretty flawed. Some of that is unavoidable; it was published in 1971 and lacked a lot of material that came out later. But much could have been better; despite the title, you'd be forgiven for thinking not much happened between about 1950 and 1965. (There are also some basic errors, including (gasp) a hockey error.) It picks up considerably once it gets to the events of 1968, at which point it discovers the urgency the rest of the book lacks. In the absence of a "Twelve Days"-style retelling of the invasion, this may be about as good as it gets.

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